EU-funded researchers develop toxin test for shellfish
Consumers wary of eating shellfish can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Scientists at Queen's University Belfast in the UK have developed a new test that makes shellfish safer. This latest tool was developed as part of the BIOCOP ('New technologies to screen multiple chemical contaminants in foods') project, which clinched EUR 9.62 million under the 'Food quality and safety' Thematic area of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).
The team at Queen's Institute for Agri-Food and Land Use says this latest tool not only frees shellfish from toxins before they enter the food chain, but it will bring significant changes to the fishing industry worldwide.
Food experts say it takes them up to two days to monitor potentially dangerous toxins in shellfish. This new technique, which involves biosensor technology, will cut the testing process down to just 30 minutes. The upshot is a faster time with a more reliable result. This test detects paralytic shellfish poisons that paralyse anyone who consumes them. Around 25% of people poisoned are also killed by the toxins.
'Toxins secreted by algae, and which concentrate in shellfish, are a major hazard to consumers and can bring huge economic losses to the aquaculture industry,' explained Professor Chris Elliott, the head of the Institute of Agri-Food and Land Use and project leader. 'While the existence of these toxins has been known for some time, there have been major concerns about the effectiveness of tests used to detect them. There is also growing evidence that climate change is causing many more toxic episodes across the world, resulting in the closure of affected shellfish beds.'
According to Professor Elliott, this new technique uses unique 'detector proteins' to hunt for tiny amounts of toxins found in various shellfish including scallops, oysters and mussels.
'The test will not only make shellfish safer to eat, but it will also have a significant impact on global aquaculture industries as they struggle to deal with the rising problems of toxins caused by climate change,' Professor Elliott pointed out.
The scientists have inked a deal with the group Neogen Europe (UK) to commercialise the idea. 'This will be the third such aquaculture product developed by Queen's and Neogen Europe, helping the company to develop its unique portfolio of rapid food safety tests and reinforcing Queen's reputation as a global leader in this area,' the Queen's researcher said.
In a related development, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is offering Queen's a grant worth USD 500,000 (around EUR 388,000) to further develop the test on the other side of the Atlantic. The tests will be conducted in laboratories and on boats as soon as the shellfish are caught. Doing this will ensure that the time taken to bring the catch to the market is significantly slashed, the researchers say.
The BIOCOP project brought together 32 research partners from Europe and abroad. EU Member States involved in the project, which ended last autumn, were Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden and the UK.
For more information, please visit:
Queen's University Belfast:
Food quality and safety research under FP6:
Category: Project results
Data Source Provider: Queen's University Belfast
Document Reference: Based on information from Queen's University Belfast
Subject Index: Food; Safety; Agriculture; Coordination, Cooperation; Scientific Research